Group Sues to Stop ‘Barbaric’ Wild Horse Experiments

     (CN) — More than 200 wild mares many pregnant will undergo unnecessary, untested and potentially deadly surgical sterilization procedures if the court system doesn’t intervene, activists claim in a federal lawsuit.
     The lawsuit targets the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management district office in Burns, Oregon, which in late June announced that it would conduct experimental sterilization surgeries on captive, wild mares housed in a corral in Hines, Oregon.
     The point, according to a BLM press release, is to develop new and effective ways of controlling overpopulations of wild horses. But Front Range Equine Rescue, a horse advocacy group in Ocala, claims that the procedures are “a cruel and barbaric waste of taxpayer money.”
     “This radical departure from the bounds of science and humane treatment is unauthorized, uncalled for and illegal,” the lawsuit states.
     As part of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, congress entrusted the BLM with the care and management of wild horses. Congress also declared at the time “that wild, free-roaming horses and burros and living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.”
     If the experiments — which will test three unproven surgical sterilization procedures — go forward, they “will cause unacceptable harassment, harm and potentially death of the very horses BLM is obligated to protect,” the lawsuit states.
     Although the BLM “doesn’t comment on current or pending litigation,” according to spokeswoman Tara Thissell, a recent BLM press release explains the rational for the experiments.
     “The decision comes on the heels of the BLM’s latest annual population estimate that shows approximately 67,000 wild horses and burros roaming public lands in 10 Western states,” the BLM announced at the end of June. “This most recent estimate is 15 percent — equivalent to 9,000 additional animals — more than what was estimated in 2015.”
     That brings the population of wild horses and burros on public lands to more than double what the agency has determined is healthy the rangeland, the BLM said.
     “With virtually no natural predators, herds can grow 15-20 percent per year, doubling in just four years if left unchecked,” the BLM said. “Overpopulation on the range can damage fragile rangeland resources and compromise animal health.”
     FRER isn’t disputing that there may be an overpopulation of wild horses, or that sterilization is a useful tool to manage the ecosystem, said to the group’s attorney Bruce Wagman. A sterilization option called Porcine Zona Pellucida, or PZP, is a scientifically proven and effective alternative that does not involve surgery. PZP does require that the BLM administer the drug via darts every one or two years, Wagman said, which the BLM views as inconvenient.
     The surgical sterilizations are more favorable to the BLM because they would be permanent, Wagman said. That is, if they worked.
     The three types of procedures slated for the mares include removing ovaries, cauterizing and slicing the oviduct and scaring the opening of the oviduct with lasers. Although the BLM said in a press release that the procedures would be performed by licensed veterinarians as part of a research study by Oregon State University, the FRER claims that the untested surgeries could cause “excessive internal bleeding, infections and death.”
     The excision of the ovaries could be particularly harmful, the lawsuit argues, because those procedures are normally laparoscopic-assisted and performed on domestic horses in clinics. All of the surgeries would be undertaken at the corral, the lawsuit states.
     The suit seeks a court declaration from the court that the BLM’s decision to conduct sterilization surgeries is “arbitrary, capricious, and should be set aside as a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.” It also calls for an injunction to prevent BLM from moving forward with the procedures.
     According to the suit, “the BLM’s willingness to perform ‘research’ on pregnant mares who remain wild, though captive in holding corrals, is a blatant violation of its obligations to these horses and a violation of federal law.”
     Front Range Equine Rescue seeks a determination that the program is null and void and cannot go forward because it violates long-standing federal regulations.
     It is represented by Elizabeth Geise, of Schiff Hardin LLP in Washington, D.C., and Bruce Wagman, of Schiff Hardin’s San Francisco office.

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